In her recent New York Times article, Heather Havrilesky asks “Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?” Like the ACSM, she uses “extreme” as a euphemism for CrossFit. The “extreme” label defames CrossFit and its participants, but on what basis? As Jeff Glassman wrote, “I dispute that CrossFit is extreme in any sense but results.”
New York Times scribes have never articulated what part of “constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity” they object to. Is it “extreme” for each member in a group to train at an intensity scaled to his or her fitness level? In fact, would only be “extreme” for them not to scale intensity to each individual’s fitness level. Or is it “extreme” to train functional movements that prepare us for the challenges of life? Would Havrilesky argue we’re better off accepting accelerating decrepitude?
Perhaps intense, functional movements are acceptable but it’s taboo to vary them. Run or squat, but don’t mix them!
The central flaw in Havrilesky’s essay is obvious: People do the same WODs, and tell the same stories, in Bahrain, Mexico, and Israel. Consider Mohammad Salah Al-Sayed, aka Busalah, an athlete at CrossFit Delmon. (Click on CC to read the subtitles)
Havrilesky asks “Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful?”
By “we,” she means “we Americans.” But Busalah says:
What makes this whole thing different … is that you can ask anyone who does CrossFit and they’ll say: the community … Here, there will always be someone to push you when you’re about to give up.
CrossFit’s appeal is human, not national. Whether he speaks Arabic, English, or Danish a CrossFitter will tell you that burpees suck. Camaraderie developed through shared suffering isn’t just an American phenomenon. It may be exceptionally American to think so.
Ms. Havrilesky could have pondered, “Why are Bahrainis fascinated with Extreme Fitness?” Instead, she ignores the thousands of CrossFit boxes, and million plus CrossFitters, outside the United States. Acknowledging the non-American CrossFit community wouldn’t have fit with her unjustified focus on elite American privilege.
Havrilesky’s not the first in this genre – she joins Seth Godin and Fran O’Connor, among others. People with minimal experience in CrossFit wonder what motivates people to do it. Is fitness too simple an answer?